By ERIN ROLL
Montclair is not a school district for a first-time superintendent, Mayor Robert Jackson said Friday.
During a Q&A forum with members of the media, Jackson addressed the subject of the ongoing superintendent search, noting that it was crucial that Montclair hire someone with previous superintendent experience, even if it meant starting the search process all over again.
Jackson said that the last time the district hired someone who was new to the role, the experience was not a positive one. “I think we went through that, and you know…we won’t go there but it just didn’t work well,” he said. “Part of that is being able to address some of the things that come up that you know have come up in the past. And you’ve got the experience to do it. You know how to deal with, you know, the very demanding parents that we have here in our school system, you know how to interact with the teachers and to get their buy-in, and the parents. This is not a place for a first-timer. Personally, I think it would be a mistake to have anybody in this district who has not had, who has not been a superintendent before.”
“This is not for a person to come in and say, I’m going to learn how to do that. You’ve got to come in saying ‘I know how to take you from Point A to Point Z.'”
Montclair has not had a permanent superintendent since the departure of Penny MacCormack in 2015, though the district’s search has narrowed to three candidates, only one of which, Ross Kasun, has previously worked as a superintendent; he holds that position currently in the Freehold school district. Candidate Kendra Johnson is the assistant superintendent for equity, curriculum and instruction in Montclair, while Rachel Goldberg is the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Passaic.
Jackson did not identify any of the superintendent candidates by name, nor state outright that he favored one particular candidate. There was a candidates’ forum at Montclair High School on Feb. 26, and Jackson said that he had watched the forum on TV34.
“All of them have strengths and weaknesses obviously,” Jackson said. “But, to me, I liked what I heard, and I thought, again, there’s a lot of interviews that go on with the board itself that obviously I’m not sitting in on, I’ve never had a conversation with any of the candidates one-on-one or anything like that. But what I saw from the video, and again, from my personal viewpoint, that this town is not a place for a first-timer. I think that’s irrefutable, actually.”
Jackson said that he would be in favor of starting the search process all over again, with a new interim superintendent, if it came to that. He had words of praise for Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak and her predecessor, Ron Bolandi.
“I guess at some level I would give the board, personally, I know we’ve been looking for leadership for, four years now, three and a half, four years, between the two interims. My mind, if it’s not that person, I would say, ‘Look, parents, we’ve had great interim superintendents in Bolandi and in Dr. Pinsak. We’re going to do it again. We’re going to go back to the drawing board.'”
“I say, ‘Look, we didn’t get what we need from this round, OK, that happens.’ But I think to just appoint somebody for the sake of saying, you know, we’d look silly or something like that if we didn’t appoint somebody … so what? This is such a crucial choice. We’re at a crucial time. We’ve done really well, let’s be honest, we’ve done really well with two interim superintendents. So what? We do it again until we find somebody who meets the criteria. But I’m telling you, this is not the time to take a gamble. I want a proven leader.”
BOE President Laura Hertzog issued this statement on Saturday: “We as a board agreed to bring all three of these very different, and very qualified candidates to the public. We are all very aware of our recent past and take our responsibility to hire the next superintendent extremely seriously.”
The Board of Education is expected to make a decision on the superintendent candidates later this month, with the goal of having the new superintendent hired in time for the start of the 2018-19 school year.